The USCCB designates each October as Respect Life Month: “a time to focus on God’s precious gift of human life and our responsibility to care for, protect, and defend the lives of our brothers and sisters.” The duty to bear Christian witness to the dignity of every human life extends, of course, throughout the year. The annual March for Life in DC and similar marches in other cities highlight the efforts of advocates for the unborn, but being pro-life includes many activities that receive less fanfare but that are no less important. By appreciating the inherent dignity and worth of each life as created by God, we recognize the sanctity of creation and our need to defend it.
The existence of an abortion clinic near my home exemplifies disregard for the dignity of human life, as well as the reality that many clients feel as if there is no better option for themselves or the nascent life inside the womb. To attempt to provide clients with an alternative to abortion and offer support, a number of advocates on the sidewalk offer counseling while others protest the clinic’s operation, pray for the souls affected, and pray in reparation for the sins committed there. Drivers and pedestrians passing by often passionately criticize our presence; many others choose ignorance or don’t want to become involved in such a contentious issue. It’s not a comfortable situation to be in, but we know we have a chance to intervene on behalf of the unborn and the parent(s) who don’t know where else to turn for assistance. Our position is not one of judgment but of love; we cannot turn a blind eye to this silent suffering.
Being a father, I vividly recall the excitement and joy of seeing my child develop in the womb of my spouse and then be delivered into this world as an infant. These life events made my pro-life convictions more tangible for me. Even under less-than-ideal circumstances of conception, the personhood of the unborn is not diminished and therefore merits protection. Fatherhood continues to teach me about myself and my role leading a family towards holiness. I have learned I must recognize the graces God bestows on us to build our domestic church and be witnesses to the sanctity of life: the person, the family, and our Faith.
I am encouraged by the many who engage with the culture and lawmakers to challenge preconceptions or misconceptions about the value of human life. The immigrant, refugee, criminal, and marginalized are endowed with the same worth as each of us! Threats to the sanctity of life endure in our society and also include sterilizations, physician-assisted suicides, human trafficking, mistreatment and neglect of seniors and the disabled, and other forms of abuse. While others may ignore these sad realities, the pro-life movement knows we have our work cut out for us. In every way in which we engage, educate, and work to convert hearts and minds to be more aware of the value of the life which we have been gifted, we must always act with love, compassion, and hope for the protection and celebration of all forms of human life, from conception through natural death. Life is precious, life is sacred, and life is worth protecting. If we do not take a stand to defend the most vulnerable, who will?
I’m blessed to be a part of a family which includes three different vocations: marriage, religious life, and the discernment of the priesthood. The annual March for Life, which occurred this year on January 24th, provided my wife and me an opportunity to host not only her sister who joined a religious order, but also several members of the religious community. As they are part of a semi-contemplative order, the sisters made the most of their time in DC touring the city, visiting historic and spiritual sites, and learning in museums—all while sharing a public witness to their vocation.
As their hosts, my wife and I had a unique vantage point which allowed us to see the reactions of passersby, both the bewildered and the curious, who are not accustomed to seeing women religious in public. The sisters are used to it, and more importantly, realize they have an opportunity to evangelize and share with others who they are and what their vocation is. Often a chat or introductions will be made, prayer cards will be given, and some pictures are taken (whether stealthily or outright). I noticed the sisters made the most of these moments, probably because they realize they can bring anyone they meet into an encounter with the Lord. The sisters and their joy witness to God’s fidelity in ways often unknown.
At the Vigil Mass for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the sisters were just a few of the many women religious present. Though each order’s habits are different, I noticed many pilgrims came up to the sisters after the Mass to inquire about their order and their distinct purple habits. The same happened at the March for Life the next day: many people simply took photos of or with the sisters, others exchanged pleasantries, memories, and prayer cards, and others ran up to the sisters and thanked them for their vocations or wanted to learn more about the order. Returning home with them across town that afternoon, however, we left the massive crowds who shared our values and encountered the daily commuters of DC. I was amused to watch them look up in surprise from their smartphone screens. The sisters would happily engage with their fellow passengers, chat about religious life, and in one case, ask a practicing Hindu about their bindi, or a vermilion mark.
Similar scenes occurred over the weekend. but it wasn’t all like a celebrity sighting: on more than one occasion, the sisters would go up to a homeless or mentally-ill person and, after chatting a bit about Jesus and Mary, share a miraculous medal and holy card to remind them about faith and invite them to trust in God. These were people used to being passed by on the sidewalk each day as they begged for food or for someone to listen to and be with them. Imagine the shock they experienced when “strangely dressed” women were suddenly engaging with them and treating them with respect and compassion!
There is no way of knowing just how God may have used the sisters as a means of planting the seeds of faith in various encounters. Certainly the unusualness of the situation might shake someone out of their complacency and eventually cause them to recall a positive memory of faith from youth or simply remember consecrated persons live and act in the world as a beautiful witness to… something. That something may lead to a renewed quest for truth or personal peace. In God’s good time, this yearning may be a motivation to reconnect with God and embrace a life of faith and holiness.
But all of us, especially laypeople, are similarly called to holiness by virtue of our baptism in Christ Jesus. We need not depend on wearing a religious habit to draw others into an encounter with the Lord, but can invite others in our schools, workplaces, social gatherings, and homes to participate in religious practices such as grace before meals, going on a pilgrimage to a holy site, reading books by the saints, or simply starting a meaningful conversation. The options for spiritual accompaniment are endless. Given time, prayer, and trust in the Lord’s will, each of us can instill the smallest seed of faith which can grow into a towering wonder.
For more resources on Vocational Discernment, please click here.
To learn more about spiritual accompaniment, please click here.
Thomas Wong is a young professional in Washington, D.C.
"Remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds, and let them be done well." – St. Vincent Pallotti
Blessings to all on the feast of St. Vincent Pallotti!
Some may ask, “Who is that?” I am glad that you asked. St. Vincent Pallotti and his charism are the reason why the Catholic Apostolate Center exists. He was a priest of the Diocese of Rome in the first half of the nineteenth century. His ministry spanned the poor to popes. It did not matter what a person was, but who the person was, an image and likeness of God, the Infinite Love. He saw all people as gifted by God with talents that were meant to be shared. On January 9, 1835, St. Vincent Pallotti was inspired to found the Union of Catholic Apostolate, a collaborative association of lay people, religious, and clergy, who were called to assist in the missionary efforts of the Church through all apostolic methods and means, “revive, maintain, and increase the faith” of Catholics, and be an “institution of universal charity”. Over time, a community of priests and brothers and communities of sisters developed as well. Members of the Union of Catholic Apostolate are now in over 50 countries around the world. The Catholic Apostolate Center, a ministry of Pallotti’s community of priests and brothers, is a 21st century expression of his charism that works to revive faith, rekindle charity, and form apostles.
Looking the other way when others were in need was not possible for Pallotti and his life calls all, particularly Catholics, to be more than simply passive participants in the Faith. Instead, we are called to be apostles, sent by Jesus Christ out into the world to spread the Gospel and charitably bring healing and consolation in the midst of brokenness and suffering.
In many ways, it is fitting that those who March for Life today in the streets of Washington, D.C. are doing so on his feast day. The marchers not only give witness, but also voice to those who are voiceless, unborn children. The most vulnerable and in need were closest to the heart of St. Vincent Pallotti as he and his companions went into the streets of Rome to care for them day after day and night after night. On January 22, 1850, he died from a respiratory illness because he had braved the elements to continue his work after giving away his cloak to a poor elderly woman on a cold, rainy night.
St. Vincent Pallotti understood well what Pope Francis teaches us today:
“Jesus, the evangelizer par excellence and the Gospel in person, identifies especially with the little ones (cf. Mt 25:40). This reminds us Christians that we are called to care for the vulnerable of the earth” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 209)
We invite you to learn more about St. Vincent by downloading our Pallotti App or visiting our new Pallotti Portal.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center